Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, reflection, special education

35 Things I Learned in 35 Years of Teaching

A Little About Me…

Yes, that’s right.

I’ve been an educator for 35 years. Over the course of my career I’ve had the following teaching assignments (in order):

Working in the school garden as a STEM Coach. {Image Credit: (c) 2014, Kim M. Bennett}

Agricultural Educator

  • Intern at the Northeast Career Center and the Ohio School for the Deaf, and area elementary schools in Columbus, Ohio, as an agricultural educator;
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant, teaching non-majors introductory horticulture and plant identification classes at The Ohio State University;
  • Adjunct Instructor, teaching vocational agriculture to non-degree students at the Ratcliffe School of Agriculture at the University of Connecticut;
  • Trainer and Instructor, teaching Home Depot garden center employees introductory horticulture in the Northeastern United States.
My first Clinical Day Treatment School classroom. {Image Credit: (c) 2018, Kim M. Bennett}

Early Childhood Educator

  • Preschool teacher, working with 3- and 4-year-olds at the Willington Nursery Cooperative in Willington, Connecticut;
  • 1:1 Educational Assistant, working with a student with multiple disabilities at Center Elementary School in Willington, Connecticut;
  • Special Education Paraprofessional, working with 1st through 3rd grade students with mild to moderate disabilities at Center Elementary School;
  • Kindergarten Paraprofessional, Center Elementary School;
  • Dual Language Teacher, working with 3rd grade students in the Companeros Program at North Windham Elementary School in Willimantic, Connecticut.

Educational Consultant

  • Education Consultant and Team Coordinator, Early Intervention and Teaching and Learning Projects, State Education Resource Center, Middletown, Connecticut;
  • Independent Education Consultant, working with educators nationwide, at Northside Consulting.
A presentation on vocabulary centers for 6th grade teachers. {Image Credit: (c) 2012, Kim M. Bennett (A Child’s Garden)}


  • Homeschool teacher/assistant principal/chief cook and bottle washer, Grades 1-10… on to 11th grade next year…

STEM Coach and Consultant

  • STEM Consultant, New London Public Schools, working with grades K-12;
  • STEM Coach, Winthrop STEM Elementary Magnet School, New London, Connecticut, working with educators and students in grades K-5.
My current Clinical Day Treatment School classroom. {Image Credit: (c) 2018, Kim M. Bennett}

Special Educator

  • Special Ed intern at York Correctional Institution and Carl Robinson Correctional Institution, working with adults with disabilities in all content areas;
  • Literacy tutor at CRCI, working with adults with reading disabilities;
  • Special Educator, working at Natchaug Hospital, with students grades 6-12 in an alternative, clinical day treatment setting for students with emotional, mental health and addiction issues.

It’s taken me a long time, but I know the place where I currently roost is where I’m supposed to be. It’s my favorite position of all my time as an educator.

Saturday homeschool… because the teacher was out sick without a sub for three days. {Image Credit: (c) 2014, Kim M. Bennett}

What I’ve Learned About Teaching

Here are 35 things I learned over 35 years of being an educator – in no particular order.

  1. If you want the pruners put back in the right place, trace their outline onto the pegboard with a Sharpie. Label the outline, “pruners.”
  2. Parents do the best they can with what they have.
  3. Some teachers get a “loaded” classroom, because those kids deserve the best instruction.
  4. It’s really okay to say that you don’t want to teach anymore.
  5. Teachers don’t like having new curriculum materials every two years. It makes them feel like new teachers all over again.
  6. All of us (kids and adults) learn new ideas better when we start with concrete objects.
  7. Incarcerated adults love succeeding at school.
  8. Some kids swear and act out because that’s the only power they feel like they have.
  9. Loving your students is a bittersweet part of the job.
  10. Being a second-language learner means you know one more language than most Americans – and that’s a strength.
  11. Rubrics are great for teaching, learning and assessment.
  12. Kids with behavior problems aren’t used to hearing about their strengths.
  13. People who are white can never really understand what it’s like to be a student of color in America.
  14. Teaching teachers is harder than teaching students of any age.
  15. When looking at data, there’s always a story behind the numbers.
  16. “Homeschool” isn’t “school at home.”
  17. Many kids learn just fine when they’re “unschooled.”
  18. Kids become attached to their teacher.
  19. New teachers sometimes need a shoulder to cry on, a reminder to eat, and chocolate.
  20. Teacher’s guides are not meant to be followed cover to cover.
  21. Little kids can understand big numbers – and we should let littles work with them.
  22. Elementary and Special Ed teachers need more confidence in science and math.
  23. Social studies = the forgotten subject in elementary schools.
  24. Finding a restaurant in the phone book is not an easy task for many students with disabilities.
  25. Teens find it more fun to swear in English than in their first language (whether Spanish, Creole or American Sign Language).
  26. It’s easier to remember scientific names if you set them to music.
  27. Preschoolers and college students both need to be reminded to eat right and go to bed on time.
  28. Stations and centers are fun for littles, teens and even adult learners (even though no one likes to call them “centers” with big kids).
  29. All kids can learn to love going to the library.
  30. Play is work for little kids.
  31. A good record-keeping system makes a SpEd teacher’s life much happier.
  32. For most kids, reading and writing happens spontaneously, when provided the right environment.
  33. Teachers are historically underpaid for what they do in the United States.
  34.  Gifted and talented kids need specialized instruction, too.
  35. Children will rise to meet the bar, however high (or low) you set it.

How About You?

What are some take-aways you’ve had, as an educator? Please share.

Posted in reflection

Summer Reflections: June Wrap-up

Looking Back on the End of the School Year
wrapping up June 2018
June brought us through the end of the 2018-29 school year, and into summer… {Image Credit (c) 2017 Kim M. Bennett}

It’s the end of June. So much has happened… so many changes. This month has brought us, in a frenzy, from the classroom or homeschool room, from the resource room or staff lounge, to our homes and the great outdoors. Here’s a look back on a busy month.

“No More Teachers, No More Books…”

In the first half of June, we closed out another calendar year. In The Ritual of Ending the School Year, we reflected on the opportunity for growth presented by gradually letting the old school year go. As we began sorting through the remnants of an academic year, we took some time to sort and file and decrease clutter in Minimalism for Teachers.
summer vacation is here
It’s summer time… time to send those children back to their parents…

“Hot Fun in the Summertime…”

For some of us, closing the classroom door means a couple of months of rest, recharging and much-needed refreshing, and time to reconnect with our own children. In “It’s Summer Vacation… They’re BA-ACK!” we see one comedian’s humorous take on what it’s like for us to spend all that extra time with our own kids. We get some ideas for fun outdoor activities that enrich and amuse kids of all ages in “Getting Outside with Children” and try our hand at some arts and crafts in “Summer Tie Dye for All Ages.” And we learned about online tools for finding free meals and ativities for kids during the summer months in Free Summer Meals in Your Area.
outdoor learning
rest and relaxation
Gardening is a great summer activity for “recovering teachers” and summer scholars! {Image credit (c) 2015, Kim M. Bennett}

Summer Learning Ideas

Many of us continue teaching, in some form, during the summer months. In “Four Bible Study Activities,” we learn four techniques for engaging tweens and teens in Bible studies at home or in places of worship. Many of us who homeschool continue the school year into the summer ~”Homeschool Ideas: ‘A Child’s Garden‘”links us to my homeschool nature study posts for summer ideas.

Looking Ahead to 2019-20…

I know I’m not the only teacher who has taken a teacher’s edition to the beach… am I? Even as we’re unwinding from one school year, we start thinking about the next one. We start pulling out textbooks we think we want to use the next year (“The Tao of Choosing a Textbook“) and start pondering strategies we want to use in the coming year (“Ten Strategies to Jump-Start the Reluctant Writer“).

Taking Care of Yourself, Too…

No matter what we do in the summer, we take precious time to care for ourselves. In “Simple Daily Habits to Ignite Your Passion for Teaching,” we get ideas for filling our empty cup so we bring our best selves back to the classroom in the fall. It’s going to be a great year, 2019-20…
summer vacation
beach time
Refresh… recharge… reconnect… it’s summer time. {Image credit (c) 2018, Kim M. Bennett}

Attention, All Educators… Summer e-Book Sale!

Whether you are new to notebooking or science journaling, or a veteran looking for some new ideas, check out my Summer e-Book Sale! Discounts on all summer items from 7/2/2019 to 7/5/2019, only.

Check out the Summer e-Book Sale at Teachers Pay Teachers (July 2-5, 2019 only)

{ This blog is features in Top 100 Special Education Blogs}

Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, reflection, special education

The Ritual of Ending the School Year

The End of the School Year is Here!

Well, it’s finally here – that long-awaited, simultaneously longed-for and dreaded, end of the school year.

If you’re like many students and educators, you already know the exact number of “go-to-bed-and-get-ups” until school’s out for the summer. I can even hear Alice Cooper singing right about now.

When it’s the end of the year, I always feel a bunch of things, all at the same time. I’m glad for the end of that downward spiral of behavior that seems to happen when the days get longer and the nights get warmer. I’m relieved that there will soon be no more Friday notes and PPT reports to prepare, no more testing, no more fights with the copier at the 11th hour, at least for a couple of months. I’m anxious for the well-being of my students, especially the ones who don’t do change very well. The end of the year also brings that renewed excitement as I begin to think about what was, what could have been, and what I hope for in the coming year.

For me, there’s a ritual feeling to the end of the school year. How about for you?

Time to (Re)Move Stuff

In the past year, I’ve moved a lot of things into a lot of places: my old school closed and I helped move its contents to another building; I moved my teaching materials into an empty room in my new school; I moved from the home we’ve lived in for the past fourteen years and into a house in another city. These moves taught me that people (errr… that would be me) keep too much stuff! 

One of my end of the year tasks now is throwing away stuff that I don’t need. If you need to clear the clutter, too, here three places to start:

  1. “File copies” of handouts ~ Don’t keep something if you can find it somewhere else. If you have the workbook, you can make more copies – IF you need them.
  2. Dog-eared novels ~ Make a springtime ritual out of giving away “well-loved” books to your students at the end of the year.
  3. Old textbooks ~ Just because you have a class set of textbooks doesn’t mean you should keep them. Pitch them or find a buy-back or donation program.
end of the year organization
The end of the year is a perfect time to get rid of what you don’t want, and organize what you want to keep. Image credit (c) 2015. Kim M. Bennett

Once I clear the clutter, it’s time to organize what I have left. The company I work for uses Toyota’s 5S process, where items are organized and the space they occupy is labeled. I used the peel-and-stick labels that you use to make tabs in notebooks. Labeling this way looks attractive, helps students be more independent, and encourages me to put things back where they belong (instead of on the windowsill behind my desk) at the end of the school day.

I also take time at the end of the year to move my base of operation back home. Things that I need to plan for the fall, summer school materials, and personal items that moved to school with me in August start to go home with me, a little each day, through the month of June.

Organizing My Thoughts

I find that April and May are my most creative planning months. I’m still in the thick of teaching, and writing new goals and objectives for my students. What they need is fresh in my mind, and I have ideas for how to meet their needs. If I wait until August, I have to remind myself what happened the year before.  The end of the year is the best time for me to start planning for next year!

I like to reflect on the year – what worked, what didn’t work… what I should begin doing, continue doing or stop doing. Sometimes I write these ideas down – I need to get better at that.

At the end of the year, I start to identify resources I want to use next year, and organize them using the 5S process. Image credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2018

While this is all fresh in my mind, I begin some long-range planning.

  • First, I choose the textbook(s) that I will use;
  • Next, I pace the textbook out for the school year;
  • Then, I determine the pages that I need to cover each day to complete the text.

Granted, things come up. But, if I do this long-range planning at the end of the year, it makes it easier for me to do my weekly and daily planning when I return in the fall.

I work in a self-contained special education room, in an alternative school setting, under the oversight of a large hospital system. We have a lot of tasks to do. I’m sure you do, too. My colleagues and I are taking some time at the end of the year to create a month-by-month schedule of tasks so that we can schedule classroom, school and corporate activities into our planning in the fall.

Restoring Balance

Teaching is hard work, especially if you are working with students with significant challenges and learning needs. It is easy to put yourself on a back burner for the sake of the students. At the end of the year, I need to actively put myself back into the equation, and restore balance in my life.

I love to garden, and usually start to work outside a little each day as soon as the weather permits. The flow of this spring activity helps me to slowly shift my focus from school life to family, home and self.

It also helps me to refill my empty cup.  We all need seasons of refreshing. For me, I’m currently finding joy and peace in my home and kitchen:

  • I revived my Amish friendship bread starter and am baking bread once or twice a week;
  • I like to brew my own kombucha – my most recent batch was a tasty dandelion and fennel brew;
  • I have a trip to the garden center planned, to pick out vegetables for the kitchen garden that I am planning for our new home.
end of the year kombucha
At the end of the school year, it’s time to revive hobbies that bring us joy. Image credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2019

I recently reconnected with the Women’s Ministry at my church. One of our tasks for the month was to keep a gratitude journal. Writing down what I am grateful for in the morning, then again in the evening, reminds me that there I am blessed in so many ways, even on the most frustrating of days. Even at the end of the school year when the kids slowly come unraveled.

Some Final Thoughts…

Ending things is hard. I find it easier at the end of the year if I leave on the last day with a short bucket list of things I want to do over the summer. Here are a few from mine:

  1. Build a book room at school with my colleagues.
  2. Start a kitchen garden in my front yard.
  3. Finish cleaning out my old house.
  4. Catch up on medical appointments.
  5. Read and write daily.

How Do You End the School Year?

What are your “end of the year” rituals? Share with us in the comments, below.